By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– Awarding-winning Iranian Christian artist Vahid Zarday, a former Muslim, has been temporarily released from a notorious prison in eastern Iran where he was held because of expressing his faith in Christ, Iranian Christians said Sunday, October 14.
Zarday was freed from jail Tuesday, October 9, in the country’s second largest city of Mashhad, 850 kilometers (530 miles) east of the capital Tehran, reported Iranian Christian news agency Mohabat News.
“According to the latest reports, he has been temporarily released and now awaits his trial
to take place.”
His release after four months imprisonment came amid a reported visit to the area by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who was born in Mashhad.
Zarday, a former Muslim, was detained during a raid on a house church in Mashhad on May 25 where they gathered for Bible study and prayers, advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC) told BosNewsLife earlier.
He was immediately transferred to Vakil-Abad where he suffered abuse, said Mohabat News, comprised of Christian rights activists.
“Vakil-Abad prison is described as ‘hell on the earth’. The prison is also very crowded, hygiene is poor, inmates are humiliated and group executions are conducted,” Mohabat News said, citing rights activists.
“The Christian convert spent 136 days in the notorious Vakil-Abad prison where he was subjected to interrogation,”added in a statement to BosNewsLife. Interrogations are often aimed at pressuring a Christian convert to return to Islam and reveal names of other believers, Iranian Christians told BosNewsLife.
The young Christian and relatives have been reluctant to make separate statements amid reports of threats by Iranian authorities.
Zarday graduated in Music from Sooreh University in Tehran and received awards as a music composer. He also worked closely with famous Iranian artists in several domestic art festivals, Christians said.
His release comes after the Church of Iran movement said at least 100 evangelical Protestant Christians and perhaps as many as 400 believers have been detained over the past 10 days.
There is international pressure on Iranian authorities however to end the perceived crackdown on religious minorities in the Islamic nation.
Ahmed Shaheed, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights, has urged Iran to release all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, including Christians, and a moratorium on executions, BosNewsLife monitored Sunday, October 14.
He said the Islamic republic mistreated many of those who were detained while at the same time limiting freedom of media, making it more difficult to get information about their situation.
Earlier Shaheed said that that based on his own interviews and reports from activist groups, “over 300 Christians have been arbitrarily arrested and detained throughout the country since June 2010”.
That figure did not include this week’s reports of massive arrests.
The UN official said among those jailed are at least 41 people detained from one month to more than a year, sometimes without official charges.
“Scores of other Christians appear to remain in detention for freely practicing their religion,” explained Shaheed, a former foreign minister of the Maldives, who has not been allowed into Iran despite repeated requests.
He explained that the Iranian constitution and a landmark international treaty ratified by Iran protect the right to practice that faith.
Shaheed welcomed the release last month of well-known Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, but said “questions remain as to why he spent three years in prison apparently for practicing his religion, a right guaranteed in Iran’s own constitution and in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”
In published remarks, Iran condemned the UN criticism as “politically motivated,” “biased” and without any legal basis.
Despite the reported crackdown, house churches continue to grow, Iranian media and local Christians say.
Even in Mashhad, viewed as a strictly Islamic city, some 200 house churches operate and an influential Muslim leader added that at least 600 people converted to Christianity recently elsewhere in the province, Mohabat News said.